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Is your child anxious most of the time? How can you tell if it is a normal case of anxiety or a disorder that needs medical attention? Read on and find out.
Radhika's nine-year-old son, Tusshar, worried excessively about various things. He was anxious when it came to his studies and school assignments, and his relationship with his friends and teachers. Radhika thought it was simply a part of growing up and did not pay much heed to it. However, at one point, Tusshar became extremely anxious and, in fact, refused to attend social gatherings. So, Radhika took him to a psychologist who diagnosed him with anxiety disorder.
Tusshar's case is not an isolated one. There are numerous children who suffer from anxiety disorder. Therefore, as parents, you should learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of this distressing disorder and try to adopt the best possible treatment advised by your doctor. While doing so, you should also keep in mind that there is a high chance of a child who is always anxious developing an anxiety disorder later in life.
Anxiety disorder is a broad spectrum of disorders that include social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder and phobias.
Let's get to the details:
The following symptoms may be present in an anxious child:
Anxiety disorders are usually caused by genetic or environmental factors, or a combination of both.
Anxiety disorders are more common in children of parents with a history of anxiety disorder. Family history of any psychological or psychiatric condition can also have a genetic vulnerability on the child to be anxious.
A child's negative experiences in life like any loss, trauma or abuse can also manifest as anxiety symptoms while growing up.
The personality of parents, their approach towards their child, and their own fears and apprehensions make a lifelong impact on the child's perception of the self. For example, if the parents are themselves worried, hypercritical or doubtful, the child can become fearful and apprehensive, or may develop threat schemas, i.e., viewing situations and events as threatening.
Parents who are not aware of the impact of their own behaviour may pass on their own vulnerabilities to the child. Therefore, a child who has seen a parent fearful of consequences picks up the fear response as her primary coping mechanism to deal with a stressful situation. Likewise, a parent who cannot tolerate negativity and becomes harsh or punitive pushes a child to believe that negatives are catastrophic and should not be tolerated. Hence, fear and anxiety become automatic responses to 'fear' stimuli for the child.
However, these genetic dispositions or environmental factors can be handled effectively by a supportive environment through which a child can learn positive coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations.
Remember, apart from the above tips, a supportive, safe and an encouraging environment at home is of the utmost importance. Anxiety, especially for most children, is a part of life but it does not mean it has to last for ever. Taking certain steps can help manage anxiety in children and help them lead a more normal life.
Dr Mala Murlidhar is a clinical psychologist
Validated by Dr Meghna Singhal, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and a parenting consultant at ParentCircle